Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How a Man Who Hated Me Taught Me Respect

SFC Legend hated me and I don’t blame him, but his hate and how he handled it taught me a valuable lesson about differences, respect, and common goals. When I joined the Army women were still a separate branch, The Woman’s Army Corp, which was in the process of being dissolved.  More fields were being opened up to women and I ended up being one of a small group of women to go through the Quartermaster School. When I finished my course I was asked to stay on as an instructor because I was a woman and I had a background in education. Makes sense right? Except that most of the instructors were typically experienced NCOs with several years of experience in the field. It’s easy to understand why some members of my team were less than thrilled when I joined them. It was an interesting time.

The most interesting part of it was my relationship with a man who made no secret about how much he didn't like women in general and me specifically being in ‘his’ Army. When SFC Legend and I were assigned a project that required our working closely together for several weeks I wondered how that was going to work because he so obviously couldn't stand me.  It didn't take long to find out.

Just after we started working together I went up for Soldier of the Month. It involved study, interviews and writing. I knew nothing. SFC Legend did however, and he went out of his way to make sure I knew as much as he could teach me in a couple of weeks.  When I asked him why he was helping me he told me that we were a team and we would work as a team. He made it seem just that simple and I know that it wasn't.  He put aside his differences, his bias and prejudices and did everything he could to make sure I was successful. He taught me how wear jump boots and to blouse my fatigues, a better way to shine brass, all the little tricks I needed to learn.  He taught me everything I needed to know about the receipt, storage and issue of petroleum products so much so that I can still recite the lectures.  

Most of all he taught me what respect looked like on a daily basis.  When someone told an off color joke or made a sexist remark he poked at me to stand up for myself without lobbing emotional grenades.   He challenged me to take a stand and speak my mind in a way that left room for the other person to save face.  We argued a lot and when we played combat volley ball I suffered until I learned that it was okay to be tough and tough wasn't mean.

Respect seems to be in short supply these days.  People act like it’s a virtue be snide and disrespectful to anyone they don’t like or don’t understand starting with the gay couple across the street and ending with the president. After all they have God on their side. The only opinion that matters is theirs and the rest of us ‘drank the Kool Aid,’ as one friend recently put it.  Respect is only given if they think we deserve it and we don’t. And they know we don’t because the Bible told them so.

We can’t go backwards. We can only go forwards and we either go together or we will be destroyed.  That’s where respect comes in.  SFC Legend had every reason in the world not to like me and to resent me.  He also had every reason to demonstrate respect. We were a team. Our neighborhoods are a team, our communities and work places….teams. And our nation is a team. Isn't it time we started acting like one?